Tuesday, December 29, 2015
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Our farmers always saw farming as means of caring for the earth.

Just focusing on energy can’t solve climate change crisis. If not handled properly, it can spiral into massive conflicts like those in Syria and Nigeria 

Climate change talks are often centered on renewable energy. Nobody talks about making farming renewable. Around 50 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to chemical farming. It emits carbon dioxide from burning of fossil fuel required to make chemicals. To prepare 1 kg of urea, 2 litre of diesel is burnt. When used in farms, urea produces nitrogen oxide which is 300 times more harmful than carbon dioxide for the earth. So a question comes why do we use these chemicals? 

The origin goes back to World War II, when those manufacturing explosives using nitrogen realised that the same can be used to make fertilizers. After the world war, the factories could have shut down but those gotten used to profiteering did not want to quit. A whole new science of farming was raised and farmers were told that nitrogen fertilizers are good.  

Around 50 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to chemical farming. It emits carbon dioxide from burning of fossil fuel required to make chemicals. To prepare 1 kg of urea, 2 litre of diesel is burnt. When used in farms, urea produces nitrogen oxide which is 300 times more harmful than carbon dioxide for the earth.

If we give it a thought, our pulses fix nitrogen as well. Their roots have rhizobium bacteria which fix nitrogen and give us good nutrition as well. But the green revolution did not have pulses. It focused on rice and wheat and the result is for everyone to see. Not only it cheated the earth of natural nitrogen fixators, shortage of pulses also led to rise in their prices. 

Another means of greenhouses gases is the industrialised meat industry. In western countries, more animals than humans are in prison. Cow loves grass, but it’s getting soyabean. In India, we are treating chicken like that. Estimates suggest that for production of every single unit of animal protein, we spend 10 times the grain, which is also grown with 10 times more input. In west, 50 per cent food produced is wasted, which contributes to methane. So when you consider all this, half of climate change problem is due to this type of food system which is dependent on chemical farming and industrial food production. 

Listen to the talk

On the other hand, natural and chemical-free farming gets us 2-10 times more produce from a single unit, provided we respect the five elements. Why we should grow corn and soya bean? Around 75 per cent of the hybrid corn we grow is used as poultry feed. So, we are diverting mother earth to torture hens. In the whole world, only 10 per cent of corn and soya is eaten. Of the rest 90 per cent, a lot is going for biofuel which gets subsidy. To prepare this biofuel, you need more fossil fuel compared to how much is substituted. 

Let’s go back to the Second World War again and we see that it also gave us poison gas which is the earlier form of pesticides. The Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984 told us how pesticides can kill humans. 

A new fraud is being played against India in name of genetically-modified crops. These are the plants which produce poison and I am not talking against science here. Earlier we used to spray poison from above, now genes are introduced into the plants to express poison. Bt is a toxin that is present in the gut of caterpillar. Likewise, herbicide tolerant gene, being introduced in GM Mustard, is also toxic. 

A new fraud is being played against India in name of genetically-modified crops. Earlier we used to spray poison from above, now genes are introduced into the plants to express poison. Bt is a toxin that is present in the gut of caterpillar. Likewise, herbicide tolerant gene, being introduced in GM Mustard, is also toxic. 

And we have seen that GM crops don’t stop pests as claimed. Our farmers in Punjab experienced that this year when whitefly destroyed 80 per cent of the cotton crop. Protests against crop failure were hijacked and converted into religious protests when somebody desecrated Guru Granth Sahib. 

Modern farming and terrorism

Such conflicts are not just happening here. Till four years ago, there was no ISIS. Syria’s story is not of ISIS. It’s of the failure of chemical farming which killed the soil and water and displaced farmers. During the drought of 2009, 10 lakh farmers moved to cities of Syria and protested. Due to binding clauses of the World Trade Organisation, which forbids help to farmers, Syrian government could not support them. Protests increased, firing happened and the whole nation dived into civil war. 

Another place from where we get such disturbing news is Nigeria where Boko Haram group has emerged. This was also not heard of before 2011. It originated from the area which had the largest lake of northern Africa. Spread over 22,000 sq kms in 1966 with four countries surrounding it, Lake Chad served 3 crore people. Of these, nomadic pastoralists were Muslims while settled agriculturists were Christians. The pond started drying up very fast post 1984 when it reduced to 2000 sq km. In 1994, it further shrank to 1,000 sq km. The reason was that the rivers which fed this pond had been diverted and dams built to provide for more water required to nurture chemical farming. Drought and climate change made matters worse resulting in conflict between pastoralists and farmers. But the “intelligent” people call it religious conflict which in fact was about access to vital resources. 

So when we keep attacking the earth, it will die, water will die, people will get displaced. We have to stand up for change. At other places people are taking to guns, our farmers are instead taking to poison to die. That’s also violence. But the solution lies within our tradition.

So when we keep attacking the earth, it will die, water will die, people will get displaced. We have to stand up for change. At other places people are taking to guns, our farmers are instead taking to poison to die. That’s also violence. But the solution lies within our tradition. Our Vedas have already said: “We should preserve this earth from where our existence came, so that food, fuel and home, remain always available. But if misused, the whole earth will be ruined and that will lead to downfall of human race.”

Farmers as climate mitigators

Our farmers never saw farming as means of production before green revolution- it was only the means to care for earth. And if you give the earth proper organic matter, then it will give you lot of food. A 0.5 per cent increase in organic matter in the soil helps with 80,000 metre increase in moisture retention. That’s the solution to climate change, to drought. Our work at Navdanya has shown that we can give good nutritious food to population twice the size of India if we go organic, use traditional seeds, save biodiversity and give full remuneration to our farmers. They are our “annadaata”, our doctors, as well as our climate mitigators- they don’t do just one work. 

If you give the earth proper organic matter, then it will give you lot of food. A 0.5 per cent increase in organic matter in the soil helps with 80,000 metre increase in moisture retention. That’s the solution to climate change, to drought.

Chemical farming has put our farmers into debt, crops are failing, pulses are not growing because the seeds we are getting are not reliable. The thinking of corporates is that only four companies should control farming. Our thinking is to put forth the 300 crore diversity we have, which has intelligence, which knows how to organize. 

With organic farming, emissions will drop to zero and the pollution of earlier times can also be handled as these plants will absorb the atmospheric carbon through photosynthesis. Estimates suggest that if whole world turns organic, climate change can be dealt in 10 years. So it’s very important that we think beyond solar or wind energy because even the best of that is not based on life. They can’t do photosynthesis. 

It’s high time that even if governments don’t take initiatives, people and societies do their bit. We are the only society, which when talked about peace, talked about peace for the wind, the space, plants, earth, everybody’s peace because unless we think about complete peace, humans won’t have peace. We have got so much from this country, from this civilization. We need to focus on its ideals more. 

Dr Vandana Shiva was speaking at the National Conference on Global Warming and Climate Change held at Bhopal on November 21, 2015.  
 

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